An illustration of a man with arthritis, as evident by red pain spots, talking to his doctor

As a patient, you might assume that doctors love to order tests and that they trust the results above all else. Not so.

According to research led by Aprajita Jagpal, MD, of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, rheumatologists may actually rely on patient feedback about arthritis symptoms more heavily than lab tests or measures of physical function when it comes to making treatment decisions. In short, what you say about how you feel really matters.

The research, which was published in the journal BMC Rheumatology, was based on a series of small group discussions of rheumatologists from across the country.

Twenty-five physicians were broken into four smaller groups and asked to consider the question: “When seeing an established patient with RA in your office, from your personal perspective and professional practice, what elements of the patient’s history, signs, and symptoms are most helpful to you in making treatment recommendations for the management of RA?”

After ideas were generated by the groups, participants were asked to vote on the three most important factors.

Patient-reported symptoms ranked number-one, with 46 percent of the rheumatologists saying that this info was crucial in guiding them when making treatment decisions. Physical function came in second (17 percent), followed by physical findings (13 percent).

Test results only got 5 percent.

“This research will serve as a foundation for the development of a user-friendly [patient-reported outcome] data collection platform for the physicians to aid treatment decisions in RA. Such tools can facilitate the data collection for RA registries, implementation of the treat to target guidelines, and optimization of clinical care for patients with RA,” the authors wrote.

Track Your Arthritis Symptoms

You can use our ArthritisPower app to track your symptoms and disease activity and share your results with your doctor. Learn more and sign up here.

Keep Reading

Jagpal A, et al. Which patient reported outcome domains are important to the rheumatologists while assessing patients with rheumatoid arthritis? BMC Rheumatology. September 2019. doi:

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